Date Awarded


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


American Studies


Charles F McGovern


This study utilizes many of the tools of the literary critic to identify and analyze the discursive conventions in autobiographies by American vernacular musicians who came of age in the American South during the era of enforced racial segregation. Through this textual analysis, we can appreciate this seemingly amorphous collection of books as a continuing conversation, where descriptions of the South and its music by turns confirm, contradict, and complicate each other. Ultimately, the dozens of southern musician autobiographies published in the last fifty years engage in a valuable and revealing dialogue, creating a virtual "Storyville"; ostensibly disparate works share themes, ideas, and literary approaches, while each narrative is distinguished by unique motifs, idiosyncrasies, and digressions.;From this crosstalk emerges a rich history informed by local knowledge as well as a larger, multifaceted portrait of now-vanished musical communities, such as Storyville-era New Orleans and the Mississippi Delta juke-joint circuit. In collaboration with co-authors, southern musicians typically employ a hybrid discursive style that attempts to balance personal subjectivity with historical authority. This narrative approach encompasses literary devices---such as free indirect discourse and paralepsis---and the "thick description" common in the social sciences. Through this reportage, musicians establish themselves as uniquely positioned organic intellectuals and citizen-historians of their respective places and times. Read collectively, musicians' published reminiscences provide important and overlooked first-person reflections on life in the Jim Crow South.



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